You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

Hello to everyone, my name is Kerry Huller and I am in my second year of the Digital Curation and Archives program. I am getting close to finishing the degree and was excited to see a new class being offered in digital curation, which was also specific to the arts.

My undergraduate education was in photojournalism and over the years I have worked for various publications. Photography was strictly analog when I began, but digital tools slowly began to make an appearance. By the time I had my first permanent job as a newspaper photographer, everything about the process was digital. From these very early days in digital newspaper photography, circa 1998, it was clear that archiving the work was going to be a problem. The newspaper I worked for had made no plans for saving anything. Back then, only images that ran in the paper were being saved, and they were only getting backed up to the computer’s hard drive, until of course we began to run out of room. At that point, a disgruntled IT staff member elected to trash what little had been saved to eliminate the problem.

As the Smithsonian Interview Project points out, preserving photography and film, or any art that began as analog work, is much more stable today. But, the conservation of digital art beyond this typical analog-turned-digital variety is a very young field. Christine Frohnert estimates it is roughly 15 years old in the Smithsonian article. All of the readings seem to stress that preservation just needs to start somewhere, anywhere. We just need to work on it, experiment and realize it is an evolving process. As Catherine points out in her post, and my own experience tells me, we will lose things. But, if newspapers have learned to no longer store photographs on a computer hard drive and that they should not throw them away when that hard drive is full, then we have made progress.

It has been a messy path, but I do think collaboration is key to moving forward. Fino-Radin stresses communication with the artist, while the Smithsonian article and Rinehart and Ippolito’s book highlight working with a variety of stakeholders, including the artist, curators, conservators, archivists, programmers, etc. This leads me to a question that has constantly come up while pursuing my MLS – how tech savvy does an archivist need to be in today’s world? Yes, a large organization will have a lot of staff to fill these roles, but what about small institutions? What do you think is feasible for a staff that may only consist of a few people or is perhaps a one-man show?

4 Replies to “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby”

  1. Hi Kerry, I enjoyed your post! It’s great to have someone with a photo journalism background in the course. It’s a great example of an area where the creative process has shifted more or less entirely digital. Jumping to your question at the end, the points about tech savvy-ness will be recurrent over the semester. My initial response would be that it’s really important for anyone working to ensure long term access to a kind of content have a solid understanding of the fundamentals of that media and medium. A lot of the course is built around getting at that fundamental understanding of computing. With that said, there is a huge difference between understanding the nature of media and, for instance, being a computer programer. That’s not to say that we don’t need librarians who are also computer programers, but it is to say that we clearly don’t need all librarians to be computer programers. In any event, welcome to the course.

    1. Thank you. I agree with you on the need to have a fundamental understanding of computing and the media, if for no other reason then to be able to communicate with those that might be doing the more technical work. One needs to have a basic understanding in order to know the full range of possibilities for preservation. I think UMD offers a good range of classes to be introduced to the tech side as well, and any introductions gained through jobs is a bonus.

  2. Hi Kerry,

    I think my answer to your question is a variation on the classic librarian quip. A librarian doesn’t know everything; she/he doesn’t need to because she/he knows how to find anything. Being tech savvy isn’t to my mind about knowing everything, it’s about knowing how to learn the same way we learn how to ask (in a reference interview).
    Harkening back to the NDSA standards, I think you start small. You know your collection. You start by determining its particular needs and potential threats; if you know precisely what your collection has, that’s a great place to jump into learning bigger and broader things. As you work with your collection, be it corporate or personal, you can see how it responds to change over time and seek particular guidance. It serves as an entree. As the collection develops and/or grows to encompass new types, so does the knowledge to handle them, but its not some monumental task, just the normal flow of business.
    On the other hand, this could create a huge amount of professional inertia where the curator becomes fixated on a single type of resource and learns about nothing else thus defeating the entire purpose of the exercise and not becoming in the least bit tech-savvy. Thoughts?

    1. Hi Catherine, I agree – as a librarian or archivist, we should know how to research and find the answers. One of the big points in the articles was collaboration and as an archivist, etc. sharing what you find. So, I think it’s important we talk to each other and seek out the people that can help us.
      I agree too on the importance of starting small initially and then branching out as time goes on. I suppose a curator focused on one type of resource may not serve his specific organization well, but if he becomes a specialist in one area, perhaps that helps the broader community?

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